Driver Monitoring Systems: How Effective Are They?

by Gwen Newell

As vehicles become increasingly automated, drivers may be tempted to become less engaged on the road. Automakers have designed two types of systems to keep drivers engaged, but the question remains – how effective are they? AAA conducted new real world testing of these systems and through research determined which one is the best and why the technology still needs to be refined.

Active driving assistance systems are widely available and often called semi-autonomous because they combine vehicle acceleration with braking and steering. Since its introduction, there have been numerous newsworthy instances of drivers misusing the systems by watching videos, working, sleeping, or even climbing into the backseat. When this behavior goes undetected by the vehicle it can result in deadly crashes.

To counter this, vehicles are equipped with driver monitoring systems – which use either a camera-based system that watches the driver’s face, or one that tracks steering wheel movement. Both systems are designed to alert the driver when they become disengaged.

AAA test drove four popular makes and models in real-world conditions on a California highway to evaluate these systems’ effectiveness. During this time, drivers conducted a series of simulated distractions and the key finding were interesting. It was determined that systems using a driver-facing camera are best at keeping motorists focused on the roads, and on average, the percent of time test drivers were forced to focus on driving was five times greater when facing a camera than with steering wheel input.

Additionally, camera-based systems issued alerts faster and more persistently than a steering wheel system, no matter the external lighting conditions. And, even after issuing multiple warnings of inattentive driving, both systems failed to disable the semi-autonomous features and force the driver to take the wheel and pay attention. So, in conclusion, both driver monitoring types were prone to being intentionally fooled, although those using a camera were harder to trick.

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